Shorpy, a favorite photo site, ran this picture with this caption today:

February 1939. Brawley, Imperial County, California. “In Farm Security Administration migrant labor camp during pea harvest. Family from Oklahoma with eleven children. Father, eldest daughter and eldest son working. She: ‘I want to go back to where we can live happy, live decent, and grow what we eat.’ He: ‘I’ve made my mistake and now we can’t go back. I’ve got nothing to farm with’.” Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. **

Now the father may think he’d made a mistake, but having read about the Dust Bowl, the hundreds or thousands of children who died of dust pneumonia, and how awful life was back where they came from, I think he’s being way too hard on himself.

And the “she” statement. she wants to grow what they eat. A sentiment from a different world! Today, most of us are suspicious of anything that hasn’t been processed through a factory first.

Just as I was wondering, “What ever happened to that family? Their great-grandkids are probably having kids now. How did they all survive? DID thy all survive? Did they become auto mechanics, cooks, what? Did their grandchildren go to college? Do they all keep in touch; do they realize that Dorothea Lange took family photos of them?”

Which takes little time to think, because it all comes at once.

And just at that moment my eyes strayed down to this ad, right underneath the family.

Hey, maybe that’s a great-great granddaughter of the man who has nothing!

Would he be proud, if it is? That the beautiful woman in the photo has likely never done what he would call work in her entire life? (Hardly a fair statement, because I’m sure that woman works hard at her craft. But we’ve all met tough old guys that value people by their physical labor output, and that’s what I meant.)

Unlike the family who went without food often, this woman likely deprives herself to maintain that heedless, svelte look so that she will be worshiped and sought after. Everyone wants to be her or have her. No one would want to be in that Depression-era family.

I remember a Dick Cavett Show episode in the early 70s, in which a Greek actress brought or talked about a Greek woman who had been tortured by the ruling Junta. Terribly intense, gut-wrenching conversation. Then they cut to a commercial that began “The heartbreak of psoriasis.”

Cavett apologized for the ad when they came back, and made a small joke about its inappropriateness. Back then, ads were consistent wherever the show ran. But I kinda feel the same way looking at the Shorpy page (which does change, and the ad you see might not be this one. They rotate.)

It’s just a weird juxtaposition of images, that makes you think philosophically and ironically. Hardscrabble, starving family with nothing, not even hope. Airbrushed beauty that cannot stand up to the light of day.  What’s the meaning of life?

** I don’t think I’m violating any rights of Shorpy’s, since the photos Dorothea Lange took are in the Library of Congress and I believe are public domain, as are the captions. But if you like crazy old photos, some rescued from 2nd-hand stores, you really should follow Shorpy!

 

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